Omar Epps has been hanging around Hollywood for a long time. He first appeared on the radar screen in The Program as a football player. That was almost 10 years ago. He has gone up and down in status since then, taking on a variety of roles in movies such as Menace II Society, Scream 2 and The Mod Squad.
Epps’ performance as Quincy McCall in Love and Basketball (New Line Cinema) is easily the actor’s best role, surpassing even his performance in The Wood. His chameleon-like ability to be any age, which served him well in The Wood, is an even more valuable trait in his latest film. You follow Quincy from his high school days in 1988 to 1997, the first year of the WNBA.
Love and Basketball is overall an entertaining film. Since it is first and foremost a love story, the relationship between Quincy and Monica (Sanaa Latham, The Best Man) must be realistic, fun and unpredictable. And the film achieves all three. The chemistry between the two actors is almost a tangible thing. Latham and Epps draw the viewer into the film with their engaging banter and showmanship. For most of the film, the love part of the story is handled quite well.
The sports story also is depicted well. The basketball scenes are choreographed beautifully. The filmmakers stay away from the unrealistic slow-motion techniques that have become too popular in recent years. The scenes are in real-time, and there is a wonderful section where all outside sound effects are removed and all we hear are Monica’s thoughts racing through her head as she plays.
The main problem with the film is that for more than half of it, you see a rough balance between love and basketball. However, when the relationship between the protagonists falls apart, the basketball scenes are also removed. You see each character struggle for the love of their game without the love of each other, until Monica and Quincy realize there is no joy to playing without the other there. Unfortunately, the audience realizes the same thing. With the relationship between the characters taken out, Love and Basketball becomes drab and rather boring.
The dialogue in the film is never terrific. However, for at least three-quarters of the film (and this is meant literally – the film is broken up into quarters like a basketball game) when the film starts to lull, a last-second shot or a sweet layup breaks up the monotony. The last section of the film relies almost completely on dialogue, which is when you begin to realize the film is not well written.
In particular, the relationships between Quincy and Monica as well as their relationships with other characters are paper-thin. Monica’s interaction with her mother (Alfre Woodard) is paralleled with Quincy and his father (Dennis Haysbert), but both relationships seem to be weighed down with clich?s and are superficial. The parental characters should have been more fleshed out or cut to the bare minimum.
But good things can still be said about Love and Basketball. First of all, it is a great period piece depicting the 1980s. The dancing, clothing styles and overall appearance of everyone in the film seems authentic and should bring back a strong sense of nostalgia for anyone who grew up in the period.
Second, it does a good job of pleasing both genders, making it the first bona fide, feel-good date movie since Jerry Maguire. Finally, Love and Basketball does a good job of showing you what it was like to be a female player in America before the inception of the WNBA: You could either leave the country and everyone behind or stop playing. Add in a killer soundtrack with songs like Love and Happiness and It Takes Two, and you have a fairly entertaining film.